Take a walk on the wild side and prepare reindeer, elk and bear in Helsinki - or develop a flair in Clare for Irish soda bread. Jenni Muir discovers cooking courses to suit every taste


Nick Nairn Cook School

Andrew Fairlie of Gleneagles, considered by some to be Scotland's best chef, is just one of the special guests to lead demonstrations at this well-conceived and well-appointed cookery school (right) founded by Nick Nairn.

Recreational classes tend to be structured around learning how to prepare a dinner party menu. They include plenty of sensible tips and advice.

Nick and his colleagues emphasise the use of high-quality Scottish ingredients, but typically blend them in a way that creates modern, international dishes rather than traditional Scots fare.

Raspberries, for example, could be secreted in the bottom of a creme brulee, or smoked haddock used in a lasagne with peas, chives and light butter sauce.

To dramatically improve your culinary technique, consider the school's conveniently structured Masterclass series.

You can spend an entire week at the school learning about each main area of kitchen work, or take a day here and there until you've completed the series.

From £130, accommodation not included. Nick Nairn Cook School, Port of Mentieth, Stirling.

(01877 389 900) www.nairnscookschool.com


Helsinki Culinary Institute

The wide range of unusual meats consumed in Finland, including reindeer, elk, moose and bear, form the basis of the most unusual cookery class.

However, anyone reluctant to take a walk on that particular wild side can ask chef Gero Hottinger of the Helsinki Culinary Institute to focus the session instead on local fish, a variety of berries, and mushrooms.

Set in the centre of the city, the Helsinki Culinary Institute will teach you classical techniques as well as giving you a taste of Scandinavia's traditional and contemporary cuisines. Classes can be ordered in English. Prices vary according to the number of people participating and the length of the sessions.

Prices from £55, not including accommodation. Helsinki Culinary Institute, Uudenmaankatu 7 B, Helsinki. (00358 9 6811 7212) www.kulinaarineninstituutti.com


Ballymaloe Cookery School

Ireland's best-known cooking school is geared primarily at those who want to work towards a diploma and make catering a career, however there are short courses and demonstration days suitable for amateurs.

Every September owner Darina Allen leads an inspiring foraging day, where ingredients such as nettles, rosehips, moss and elderberries are collected from the wild, then taken back to the school for cooking.

In May the stunning organic gardens, which include plots dedicated to herbs, fruit and vegetables, open to the public and are worth a tour.

Ballymaloe also runs classes based around the gardens, such as the one-day Creative Vegetable Gardening course by writer Joy Larkcom that looks at how to design and manage a potager so that it is productive and beautiful.

From £65, not including accommodation. Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, Midelton, Co Cork, Ireland. (00353 21 4646 785)


Belle Isle Cookery School

Set on a wooded island in Upper Lough Erne, the Belle Isle Cookery School forms part of the Duke of Abercorn's estate.

Chef Liz Moore uses ingredients from the estate's gardens as well as local suppliers such as O'Doherty's butchers to produce a fresh style of modern Irish cuisine with Mediterranean touches. Guests stay in Belle Isle Castle, which has been restored to suit modern life, and decorated with antique furniture and Victorian art.

£1,300 including accommodation. Flights extra. Belle Isle School of Cookery, Lisbellaw, Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. (028 6638 7231)



Berry Lodge Cookery School

Berry Lodge is a Victorian family home operating as a restaurant with rooms, and a cookery school. Owner Rita Meade is a chef and home economist with over 25 years' experience and her aim is to produce distinctive Irish country house cuisine.

Weekend courses include A Taste of Irish Cookery, which teaches guests to make soda bread and scones as well as dishes using local fish, shellfish and vegetables. Winter Wonders features warming treats such as baked eggs with leeks and smoked salmon, beef and Guinness casserole and spiced pan-roasted pear cake.

From £128 including accommodation and meals. Berry Lodge, Annagh, Miltown Malbay, Co Clare, Ireland. (00353 65 708 7022) www.berrylodge.com


Aquavit and the New Scandinavian Cuisine

Marcus Samuelsson Houghton Mifflin, available through Amazon

This is a tribute to the food Marcus Samuelsson grew up with. Born in Ethiopia, he was adopted by a Swedish couple, and trained in Goteborg, Switzerland and Austria. He is executive chef and co-owner of Aquavit in New York.

Irish Traditional Cooking

Darina Allen Kyle Cathie, RRP £14.99

Classic dishes put together by the doyenne of Irish cooking. She deliberately set out to record some of Ireland's culinary heritage before it was lost. The recipes drip with oysters, mussels, Guiness, potatoes and a whole basket of foods associated with the Emerald Isle.

Sue Lawrence's Scottish Kitchen

Sue Lawrence Headline, hardcover £20

The key to this book is its subtitle - Over 100 Modern Recipes Using Traditional Ingredients. And it does just what it says on the cover. The 2003 book, now in a reprint, celebrates cooking with good Scottish products, strong flavours and easy-to-follow recipes.

Gordon Ramsay Makes It Easy

Gordon Ramsay Quadrille, £19.99

This is a step-by-step guide to home cooking, and promises to make Gordon Ramsay's food accessible to a wider audience. The book is due for publication on April 1 - no joke. At least you won't have to contend with Ramsay dismissing you from the kitchen.